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Time for change with packet

Jari Jokiniemi (OH3BU) on June 3, 2003
View comments about this article!

Once in a while we see angry discussions about how packet cheaters should be caught and punished. Techniques for chasing self-spotters have been shown and the virtues of non-packet operating have been loudly presented. The discussion usually revolves around how the users of packet break the rules and take an advantage by doing so.

I am bored of this. Not because it has many times been proven that packet does not actually improve your score that much compared to e.g. huge power or big antennas, not to even mention about what a good DX location does to your score. Not because I could not care less how the pileups of rare DX stations grow rapidly after a packet spot. Not because enforcing the passive packet use rules is difficult, especially if you want do it with an acceptable level of confidence. Not even because I haven't seen a new argument in fifteen years.

I am bored because the discussion continues around a totally wrong subject. I am not that interested in technicalities about how the packet rules could or should be enforced. The really important question is that why are so huge amounts of contesters ignoring the packet rules?

It is far too easy to say that they are doing it because it brings them an unfair advantage. To lock one's mind into that simplistic idea is avoiding the hard issues. Getting an advantage is of cource one of the possible reasons for braking the rules, yes, that's true, but the vast majority of the people still do respect most of the rules even when breaking them could provide an advantage and when following the rules causes some minor inconvenience. In general, in any society, it is only when the rules are felt to be clearly injust or totally meaningless when large amounts of people tend to rebel. Luckily the standard procedure is just to ignore the meaningless rules instead of making a deadly revolution each time one dislikes a rule or law. This makes sense. The way it is, the society stays relatively calm and the bad rules are at some point of time quietly forgotten.

One should note that people are practical. If a traffic signal is broken and it shows only red, practically all people will eventually pass the crossing despite of the red light. I've seen a test of this in TV. The crossing had very little traffic, and the signal was set to be red for ever. There was one fellow who endured half an hour, the most people drove against the red light after a couple of minutes. Indeed, every single test person eventually broke the law. Yet, nobody in his right mind would demand them to be punished.

So how is this related to packet? Well, let's see some observable facts. A fact is that most of DXers have long ago accepted packet as the standard procedure. You don't need any other proof than just to look at how it only takes from half a minute to some two minutes to form a pileup whenever some rare DX shows up in the bands. Look how well informed the DX community is about who's going where and when. It is the same with most of the contesters. It is obvious to me that the vast majority of contest participants do not see any value at all in the very existence of any rules regarding packet. Packet is the mainstream. Not using packet is out of the mainstream. It has been so for more than a decade already. It is only the contest rules that are lagging behind.

The sad part of this story is not only that people are braking the contest rules but the fact that the rules do not respect the values the people have alltogether. So it is natural that the rules are broken. You may argue that a rule is a rule and as such should be followed and that's it, end of discussion. This does not change the perception that, in general, the packet rules are seen unjust. It is as simple as that. You may like it or dislike it. You may have whatever arguments to support your views about packet. You may argue that there is a class for those who want to use packet. Note that to the general public this argument is void, as the rules do not respect the mainstream view, which is that packet should be allowed not only on high power but also on low power and QRP classes. Because of this, the vast majority simply does not care any more. The packet restrictions have lost absolutely all meaning to them. They have more important things in their minds. Perhaps they even spend some time with their families instead of sitting all the time in front of the radios. They just use packet and enjoy it and leave the complainers complain. If you want to address this vast majority of contest participants, you should finally stop complaining and change the rules to accept the majority view.

I still hear raging about supposedly unfair advantages when using packet. Some areas don't have any packet access etc. Come on, fellows. Are you really wanting to create an equal playground for all contesters? You are? Ok, let's see where this target setting really leads us. Let us for once tackle the real issues instead of banging on about packet.

So the question is that how should the rules of the major DX contests be written if all unfair advantages are removed. It is a well known fact by all contesters and especially among the top class contesters that the very most important external factor for success is QTH. That is why the winners go to EA8, P40, PJ5, and ZD8, just to name a few good locations. In order to equalize the chances, one should automatically disqualify all participants that are in rare DXCC locations. Yes, this would take away an essential element of DX contesting, but remember that right now our goal is to make the playground as equal as it possibly can be. The other significant contest score increasing factors have been statistically proven to be power and antennas. Thus, one should forbid linear amplifiers and large beams also. Now we have done some real things to equalize the chances and there is a slight possibility that the driving force in the scores actually is operator skill and persistence.

I can hear angry roaring. What about all the people who have spent countless hours for building their superstations that are now useless? Well, sorry, remember the goal, to equalize chances. Too bad for the big guns. This might mean that some of the small stations beats the big ones. Note that this indeed was the purpose of this exercise. Besides, I'm pretty sure that those very good operators who win now would win also in this new scheme. It would just be more evident that they in fact are very good operators. Remember who has won WRTC three times.

So now we summarize the new and improved classes for the CQWW and other serious DX contests. The Multi Multi, Multi Single, and Multi Two would continue as they are currently. All the packet restrictions are removed from all the classes, this includes removing the prohibition of self-spotting. Go for it, if you like it. It will be totally useless anyway when thousands of stations self-spot. Thus Single Operator Assisted class is eliminated as unnecessary and Single Operator High Power class is also eliminated as being in contradiction to giving equal chances also to those who do not have enough money for an amplifier. Remember that one idea was also to forbid big antennas for all single operator classes. The limits that the Tribander Single Element class of WPX currently have are an excellent equalizer and represent well the setups that the ordinary hams have, so let us take those into use for all single operator classes. The new mainstream contest class is thus the new Single Operator Low Power class, which is in effect similar to the current SOLPTS of WPX, except that packet is allowed. Naturally, the Single Operator QRP class continues. Remember that as the target is to equalize the playground, all the entrants who are in any of the DXCC need list's top 200 entities are disqualified from the single operator classes.

As was earlier noticed, disqualification of all rare DX stations totally from the contest will without any doubts diminish interest in DX contests. First, there would not be anyone to travel to rare places for contesting, which in itself would not be much of a problem as the travellers represent a small minority of all participants. However, the knock out effect would be that many of the ordinary contesters who only make a few hundred contacts and primarily chase DX would also have less interest in participating. Thus, we must make some adjustment to the previously mentioned great principles to equalize chances. The solution is surprisingly simple. We create an additional class. Let us call it The Classic Top Operator Class. This elite class would be for the rare DX only and it would mimic the current SOHP class as closely as possible. Thus, only the contesters in the DXCC need list's top 200 entities are entitled to participate. Packet, the great evil, is forbidden. We set the power limit to a modest 15 kW to accommondate silently accepted practices and one can use whatever antennas one has money to build. Naturally, CTOP class results are listed separately from the single operator class results.

I am sure that my modest suggestions would solve all disputes regarding packet. I am waiting for the encouraging comments and a rapid adoptation of these new contest rule principles in the major DX contests.

Member Comments: Add A Comment
This is a problem which is already being solved Reply
by K1XM on June 5, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
This article starts with saying that a large number of people are cheating by using packet as a single-op or by self-spotting. It then suggests that, since cheating is widespread the rules should be changed.

I haven't seen anything which suggest that packet cheating is common. Perhaps the vast majority of single-op stations don't use packet, and very few stations self-spot.

As the cheaters discover that they can be caught they will change their behavior. The contest reflector discussion and maybe a few disqualifications will take care of that.

Paul, K1XM
Time for change with packet Reply
by K3BU on June 7, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
1. Analogy would be, for all the sailboat races "because the motors are around" and few people are using them - let's have motors on all sailboats, this way we do not need "archaic" rules and to check for cheaters.

2. Start the new contest with rules YOU like and see what happens.

3. Packet = assistance by OTHER operators via comm link. If one wants to enjoy operating solo then do not herd him with team supported operators.

So hard to understand?

I prefer to run on my own legs, don't need the team of packet coolies to carry me over the finish line!
Am I weird or old fashioned?

Yuri, K3BU, VE3BMV, VE1BY etc.

p.s. I "cheated" once, was single op - no packet, submitted log, somehow it ended up in "ass-isted" category, got certificate proving that "ass-isting" can be handicap.

You missed the point Reply
by kr2q on June 7, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
I think you miss the point. This has nothing to do with leveling the playing field, it has to do with honesty.

One can EASILY and LEGALLY use packet...just claim it! In all cases self-spotting is not allowed. Doing so is just cheating. Why do we need thousands of words of discuss this?

de Doug KR2Q
RE: You missed the point Reply
by N0RKX on June 7, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
If I've got the gist of the article cheating with packet/telnet spots is so purvasive that the rules regarding packet/telnet spots should be dropped? How about if we just ignore the rules we don't like or impose them on the people or class of people we don't like?

Just one more example of the "do what ever feels right" mentality that has led to a lot of what ails us in society. It all comes down to the difference between right and wrong. Some people learned it at an early age and some didn't. Those that didn't shouldn't be allowed to profit from it. Even if it is just a Ham Radio contest.

73, N0RKX
Time for change with packet Reply
by w5xd on June 7, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
The author says he's bored, gets my attention, and proceeds to write a long boring self-serving dissertation of circular arguments. To paraphrase: obviously everybody knows the mainstream is that everyone uses packet (and therefore no one uses his own skills to find QSOs!).
Time for change with packet Reply
by VE4XT on June 7, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Since it has been proven that you don't need to cheat to use packet, you simply have to claim the appropriate category, what logic dictates that we must placate these scumwad cheaters by retroactively condoning their immoral, unethical, dishonest and cowardly behaviour?

I think the obvious linguistic difficulties of the author aside, he's written a PhD-level case study of circular logic. The red light scenario is, at once, a red herring and a non-sequitor. The light is never going to change. But the contest rules provide the packet operator with two options: the legal road faced with an always-on green light and the dishonest road faced with an always-on red light. It is only a lack of morality forcing you to choose the latter.

I think the majority of contesters are hard-working, honest folk doing an upstanding job of staying within the rules. These are the people we should honour by leaving the rules as they are and labelling the cheaters for what they really are: cretins that need to work UP to being called scum.
Time for change with packet Reply
by N4KG on June 11, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Interesting attempt to justify CHEATING.

I don't accept that ALL entrants cheat and therefore we should change the rules so that cheaters are no longer looked down upon.

Tom N4KG

Time for change with packet Reply
by N1UR on June 11, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
It seems as though there are a lot of North Americans commenting on this article. What do others think?

Do we need self spotting to be legalized? Or is there a reason to keep it as it is, packet use if claimed assisted but not using it to CQ.

I personally am always LP without packet and enter it that way. I don't cheat, and take offense to someone who assumes that I do.

Time for change with packet Reply
by k6iii on June 12, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
Where's the satisfaction in cheating? You know if you've done it and if you 'win' a certificate or whatever, it has very significantly discounted value. I suspect if you frame it and display it in your shack, each time you look at it, if you are honest with yourself, the thought may cross your mind that 'I cheated'.

I use telnet during contests... makes life easier when in the H&P mode. I have a modest station and don't attract a lot of attention, especially when I am running QRP. But there are times when I am not in the 'Assisted' catagory, too.
RE: Time for change with packet Reply
by w1jq on July 11, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
I don't use spots during contests. (Or at least, a contest on which I intend to submit a score.) Period. I think that's entirely against the spirit of what the contest is about.

If I had my way (and I don't), I'd limit spotting to within a multi-op operations. No "assisted" class, no nothing. Within a multi-op, one operator can yell "I hear YA on 40 meters."

To some extent, rules for any contest are arbitrary. Why only 11 players per time in football? What makes it a contest is having the same rules. Still, though, it seems to me that a contest is what *you* can accomplish, how you deal with the propagation the sun has choosen to give you, whether you can figure out something that works during poor conditions. It's not what you can do if you have someone telling you where all the stations are.

BTW, like N1UR, I'm not a superstation. I operate low power, with all wire antennas. Not a super-station by any means. Part of the game is what you can do within the limitations of your operation.
RE: Time for change with packet Reply
by W1EBI on July 16, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
I totally agree with your last sentence, Mike. But I don't agree at all with your suggestion that packet goes against the spirit of the contest. The rules of a contest providing for an assisted category in fact encourage a segment of contestants to enter in that category. Is a high-power category against the "spirit of the contest" from the frame of reference of LP stations? I say no--it's just another category.
Time for change with packet Reply
by ae9b on July 17, 2003 Mail this to a friend!
I have been thinking....
One of these upcoming contest, I might just get on the packet network and in an attempt to help some of the rare DX which tends to get on during the contest find me, (it would help their score) spot myself.. lots and lots and lots of times maybe 1000 times during the course of a 48 hour contest. It is NOT a violation of FCC rules. It is a violation of contest rules. If you don't enter the contest, you can do what you wish. Does this create an unfair advantage? To who? If I'm not interested in winning any wallpaper or plaque then there is no rules violation right? I bet there will be lots of griping about that huh? Have fun with your hobby!

Time for change with packet Reply
by AA4LR on July 18, 2003 Mail this to a friend!

You start off with an excellent point -- why are contesters ignoring the contest rules?

I don't believe there's a huge number here, but clearly a not insignificant number of contesters either choose to ignore these rules, or in most recent instances, use subterfuge to get around them. (eg self-spotting by posting via the web with another's callsign)

It doesn't seem to me that the rules regarding packet are either unjust nor meaningless. The use of packet clearly defines outside assistance. While such use may not create any advantage for the top contest scorers (indeed, currently theory is that it may be a disadvantage -- single op, distracted) it can create an advantage for those with more modest skills.

The traffic light analogy is specious. Traffic signals have an implied contract with the motorist -- they regulate the traffic flow in order to avoid accidents and congestion. But a traffic light that never changes is clearly broken, and the motorist shouldn't be held accountable for violating the laws when the equipment isn't functioning.

There are some contesters who argue that packet ought to be outlawed entirely. Most of these suggestions come from experienced contesters who view packet as offering little, if any strategic advantage -- particularly in view of its abuses.

You are correct that the DXing community has embraced packet with open arms. Because of the intersection between DXing and contesting, it makes sense for contest organizers to allow for this activity. And they do -- that's the main reason we have rules for spotting network use in most contests. It would be a bad idea for the contesting community to alienate a portion of the DXing community by trying to outlaw packet, since many DXers later become contesters. So we accomodate it with the current rules.

You lost me with the argument that packet ought to be usable with low or QRP power. Depending on the contest, most that have separate categories for Single Operator - LP or QRP also have categories for Single Operator Assisted - LP or QRP. The only one I'm aware of that does not is the ARRL Sweepstakes, where spotting networks are permitted in the Multioperator (M) and Unlimited (U) categories. Of course, ARRL SS doesn't distinguish between Multioperator LP or QRP, either.

Even contests that do not have power categories often recognize lower-power efforts with footnotes in the listings. So, there's no reason that participants are limited from the use of spotting networks if they run Low or QRP power.

And, yes, there are many areas of the world that have limited or not spotting network coverage. The vast majority of hams don't live in those areas, but much of the desirable DX does! That's a problem. Do we really want to change the rules in such a way that might discourage participation by rare DX? NO! That's why we have a separate category that allows spotting network.

Your arguments about equalization of the sport seem to have gotten far, far afield from your initial question -- why are contestors ignoring rules regarding packet? It's a very nice straw man you've knocked down there, but it doesn't support your conclusions.

Lifting the prohibition on self-spotting (along with just allowing packet for everyone), would probably incapacitate the spotting network. Imagine, if you will, every equipped station will be sending out a spot every 1-5 minutes -- and for M/M or M/2 stations, this might involve multiple spots for multiple bands!

I don't get your point about disqualification of rare DX. History has shown that contest judges tend to disqualify infrequently, and usually only for the most egregious cases of cheating.

Or are you implying that if we enforce the rules as written, we should turn a blind eye toward the rare DX? Does that mean the rules don't apply if I have a rare enough prefix? Sir, that is just plain WRONG.

Your suggestions would send the bands into chaos -- carte blanc to use packet, excessive power. What's next? Should we also ignore the rules regarding signals per band?

Your solution is too radical. The issues regarding packet just aren't that broken. Only two things need to happen to make the existing rules work a) people need to select the correct category when they use Packet, b) those who self-spot need to be disqualified.

I think we're most of the way there on a), and with a bit of education, we might just get there on b). Then we can get back to worrying about other problems, like running lots of SOUP....

RE: Time for change with packet Reply
by OH3BU on July 21, 2003 Mail this to a friend!

I am glad that there has been at least one reader (AA4LR) who has understood the point I was trying to make with my little article that I wrote to amuse the contesting community. The article was written tongue in the cheek but it did have a hidden agenda that was basically a serious one.

For clarity, I want to offer an explanation for the issue raised by him as quoted below:

"I don't get your point about disqualification of rare DX. History has shown that contest judges tend to disqualify infrequently, and usually only for the most egregious cases of cheating.

Or are you implying that if we enforce the rules as written, we should turn a blind eye toward the rare DX? Does that mean the rules don't apply if I have a rare enough prefix? Sir, that is just plain WRONG."

In fact, I was only exaggarating the well known and often forgotten fact that being in a rare DX location is much more profitable to the score than using packet is.


-Jari, OH3BU
Time for change with packet Reply
by n2ea on July 27, 2003 Mail this to a friend!

Improper packet use is a non-problem, or at least a self-correcting one, over time. Although it's a 'so-what?' discussion, the author raised an interesting secondary point:

On the topic of levelling the playing field, it might be interesting for contesting if there were a 100w and a vertical class. Consider how many more stations would be encouraged to play.

Yuri (k3bu) raised the analogy of racing sailboats with auxiliary engines. One doesn't use the motor during a race. To extend that analogy further, modern sailboat racing uses a handicap system to 'level the playing field'. Even the slowest boats can compete,
and clubs create rating-classes, to manage fleet size and match up boat capabilities.

SOA adds a level of interest to radio contesting.
SOLPV (low power,vert) or SOLPW (wires) might be an interesting entry level class for newbies.

And thus, the pot has been stirred once again.

RE: Time for change with packet Reply
by G4iFB on August 9, 2003 Mail this to a friend!

Interesting thread! It's clearly got you all thinking. Here's a bit more analysis to keep your brain juices flowing.

I agree with other comments in this thread that DXcluster cheating is not widespread, and is not the most serious problem in any case.

As a professional auditor, I recogise 3 main classes of controls against cheating in contests:

1. Preventive controls [controls to prevent or deter cheating]
- self-restraint (the biggest control of all is that entrants generally comply with the rules and avoid going [too far] over the top e.g. with excessive power, multi-op/assistance, self-spotting etc., especially if they fear being inspected or spurned by other hams)
- carefully, precisely and formally defined contest rules, honed over the years to specifically address previous cheats
- logs formally submitted (the 'official entry' can't be changed by the entrant)
- logs submitted quite soon after the event (limits the amount of post-contest log tweaking)
- entrants pre-register, stating what category they will enter and giving station location and other details to permit inspection during the event (this happens in our Field Days at least)
- official, independent adjudication of all entries against the rules

2. Detective controls [controls to identify cheats]
- logs are informally checked for reasonableness and quality (e.g. hand-written logs with convenient smudges when the entrant could not identify the correct character or number sent)
- logs are formally checked for accuracy and completeness (now computerised e.g. dupe checks, hours operated)
- logs are formally cross-checked for accuracy and completeness, including both sides of [some] QSOs (WAE's QTC feature is an interesting way to increase QSO cross-checking, but manual or computerised callsign databases have been used for decades in most contests)
- "unassisted" logs checked statistically against DXcluster records for significant correlations
- DXcluster records and IP logs checked for self-spotters etc.
- stations inspected by adjudicators during the contest

3. Corrective controls [controls to stop identified cheats from getting away with it]
- scores are reduced for log 'mistakes', sometimes with additional penalties for obvious attempts to cheat
- cheats are disqualified or asked to "reclassify" their entries
- cheats are publicly humiliated in the write-ups
- known/suspected cheats are subjected to additional scrutiny in future (this may not be officially acknowledged but happens in practice - contest committees take a more careful look at stations whose scores appear to exceed their station or operator capabilities, or who have been caught or 'nearly caught' cheating in previous contests)
- cheats are spurned by the ham community (in my view, this is probably the most powerful control other than self-restraint - I know of one UK DXer who was [accused of] cheating and had literally years of quiet persecution by other UK hams until his death).

Of these, the biggest control gap in my opinion, now that we are almost fully computerised, is that logs can be massaged by entrants after the event but before they are submitted. To cut this down and encourage entrants to send their raw logs immediately, I would propose an additonal rule whereby final post-checking scores are automatically reduced by, say, 2-5% for every day that passes between the end of the contest and the entry being received by the adjudicators. This looks fairer to me than simply reducing the deadline (the Luddites still need time to make their hand-written logs legible and post them in!!). I would also encourage more station inspections, requiring pre-contest registrations at least for those who anticipate achieving a top-ten position in any category: in my opinion, the *possibility* of inspection is a significant deterrent and a constant reminder of the rules.

Gary G4iFB "When it works, work it"
Time for change with packet Reply
by N2WN on March 26, 2004 Mail this to a friend!
I don't see any real advantage to packet spots. Perhaps to see if there is an opening on a particular band to your area? One could go back to the age old (well 1970's when I last contested) arguement about rate versus multipliers, can you pick it quick enough? Frankly, I was thrilled with the rate and multipliers I worked all by my lonesome. I think that there are many who feel the way I do, and for those that don't, there is the assisted category. When it comes to cheating, there are probably more folks running over the legal power limit for a category and gaining an edge that way than by using packet spots. Just my opinion... The vast majority of the folks in contests are having fun, and competing against themselves.
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